Friday, October 31, 2008
"BODY OF LIES" (2008) Review
Based upon David Ignatius’ 2007 novel, ”BODY OF LIES” tells the story of a CIA operative assigned to track down a Middle Eastern terrorist responsible for a series of bombings in Europe. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie stars Leonard DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. When I first saw the trailer for ”BODY OF LIES”, I thought it would be about a CIA operative in the Middle East that ends up clashing with his handler over an assignment. As it turned out, the trailer ended up being misleading. In the end, I had no choice but to sit back and see what the movie’s plot would lead me. Despite Warner Brothers’ very misleading trailer.
Leonard DiCaprio portrayed a CIA operative named Roger Ferris. He is assigned by his handler, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) to track down a terrorist by the name of Al Salim. Upon following up a lead, Ferris' asset (who he has become good friends with) is killed in a car blast in a car chase and he is sent to Jordan. There, Ferris makes contact with Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, or GID. Salaam tells Ferris to never lie to him. Hoffman finds an Al Salim safe house in Jordan and tells Ferris to conduct a surveillance operation on it. Meanwhile, Hoffman organizes another operative to conduct an operation without Ferris' consent. The other agent screws the operation up and blows his cover after saying something compromising to a terrorist from the safe house. The terrorist takes off running, intent on relaying information that the safe house is being watched. Ferris chases him down and kills him by stabbing him, getting bitten by dogs in the process. Hani covers up the killing by passing it off as a robbery and Ferris accuses Hoffman of running "side operations”, telling Hoffman to lay off. Meanwhile, Ferris meets a nurse named Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), who treats his wound. He eventually falls in love with her – an act that proves to have consequences later in the movie.
As I had stated earlier, ”BODY OF LIES” proved not to be about a clash between Ferris and Hoffman over a case. It proved to be about the deceptions perpetrated by those in the intelligence community, dedicated to the ”war on terrorism”. Unfortunately, the deceptions used by Hoffman upon both Ferris and Salaam ended up affecting the careful alliance established between the latter two. Even Ferris got into the game when he failed to inform Salaam about the con job he and Hoffman had created to flush out Al Salim. In the end, both Americans end up getting the surprises of their lives.
Despite my initial misgivings that I had been deceived by the movie’s trailer, ”BODY OF LIES” turned out to be an intriguing and entertaining movie. Although the story’s three main characters – Ferris, Hoffman and Salaam – are supposed to be allies in the fight against terrorism and in the hunt for Al Salim, they spend more time in conflict against each other than against the story’s main antagonist. This especially seemed to be the case of Hoffman, who comes across as a manipulative and controlling man who keeps his secrets a little too close to his chest – to the detriment of Ferris. Screenwriters William Monahan (Oscar winner for ”THE DEPARTED”) and Ignatius, who also wrote the novel, created a pretty solid screenplay. However, I would not say there was anything exceptional about it – except for the finale. Perhaps the story’s lack of anything sensational had led to the movie’s failure at the box office. Or perhaps Warner Brothers’ misleading trailer was the real culprit.
Leonardo DiCaprio once again proved why he has become one of the most talented actors of his generation. His Roger Ferris is a fierce, intelligent man with a sardonic streak a mile wide. He also has a talent for diplomacy, which is apparent in his dealings with Salaam and the Jordan Intelligence Department. Like Ferris, Russell Crowe’s Ed Hoffman is a fierce and dedicated opponent of terrorism. Unfortunately, he lacks Ferris’ talent for diplomacy and has a tendency to allow his arrogance to get the best of him. But I must admit that Hoffman is a fascinating character and one can thank Crowe’s superb acting and William Monahan’s writing for this. Crowe manages to hide Hoffman’s aggression, cold-bloodedness and arrogance behind a ”good ‘old boy” façade that project a cheerful persona with a penchant for calling Ferris ”buddy”. Some of the movie’s more interesting scenes featured Hoffman giving Ferris cold-blooded instructions or advice on how to deal with the hunt for Al Salim, while interacting lovingly with his family. It was like watching compartimenlization at its most extreme.
The supporting cast included British actor Mark Strong as Hanni Salaam as the head of Jordan Intelligence. First impressed by Strong’s villainous turn in last year’s ”STARDUST”, my admiration for Strong increased by his portrayal of the intelligent and strong-willed Salaam, who refuses to be intimidated by Hoffman and the CIA’s firepower in his demand for respect by his Western allies. Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani gave a solid performance as Aisha, the no-nonsense and witty nurse with whom Ferris falls in love.
”BODY OF LIES” is not as exceptional as one might expect it to be, considering the two leads, the director and the screenwriters. It is an entertaining, solid thriller filled with interesting and ambiguous characters. Through characters like Salaam and Aisha, the movie manages to avoid the usual clichés about Middle Eastern characters. The best thing I can say about it – aside from the excellent acting – is the plot twist that surprised me in the end. It may not be Oscar material, but it is certainly not crap.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Below is a gallery from the Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated drama, "ATONEMENT". Based upon Ian McEwan's novel, the film starred James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan; and was directed by Joe Wright:
"ATONEMENT" Photo Gallery
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
”POST SEASON 3 LEADERSHIP OF THE CHARMED ONES”
I am probably going to get bashed for this. I have never thought it was a good thing for the writers to automatically allow Piper Halliwell to become the new leader of the Charmed Ones in S4, based upon the fact that she had become the oldest sister upon Prue’s death.
I am sorry, but I do not think that Piper ever had the personality to be a real leader. And I found her "growth" as a character and a leader rather hard to believe. Even by the seventh or eighth seasons. Her idea of leadership seemed to require her to be curt and bitchy a lot. I suspect that this attitude sprung from her dislike of her abilities as a witch.
Since Season 1, Piper has complained about being a witch. In my opinion, if she never wanted to be a witch, she should have rid herself and her children of powers and try to live the life she wanted. Unfortunately, fear prevented Piper from considering this option.
More than anything, I never understood Kern's decision to turn Piper into Uber Bitch or a second-rate Prue, because she became the new leader. It really seemed to go against her established personality. I had no problem with Piper becoming a stronger character. But I did have a problem with Kern's decision to make her the new leader, because of her age. All Kern did was end up turning Piper into a second-rate Prue or an Uber Bitch.
Phoebe probably would have made a slightly better leader . . . if she had not become so self-absorbed and immature over the years. And Paige would have made an even better leader, despite her inexperience in S4. Unfortunately for Paige, Kern and his writers decided to slap the “youngest sister” cliché upon her character and turned her into an irresponsible flake sometime between mid-Season 5 and the series finale.
What really made Piper unsuited as a leader of the Charmed Ones to me was the number of mistakes that she and her sisters made, following Prue’s death. After all, the Halliwells made some really bad decisions during Piper’s tenure as "leader":
*Cole's death in "Long Live the Queen" - the sisters never bothered to learn how Cole became the Source and they ended up killing an innocent victim of demonic possession.
*Piper's decision to allow Leo to change her personality in "Oh Goddess!, Part II"
*Phoebe and Paige's theft of Darryl's soul in "Valhalley of the Dolls"
*Paige convinced her boyfriend, Richard to strip his powers, instead of making him realize that he needed help to discover the true reason behind his abuse of magic
*Phoebe and Paige manipulated the murder of Rick Gettridge by demons in "Hyde School Reunion"
*The Halliwell sisters and Leo form a deal with the Avatars in "Extreme Makeover: World Edition" to make the world conflict free via a spell.
Prue was not perfect. She made some mistakes during her time as a Charmed One. But aside from the spell she and Phoebe had cast to save Piper in Season 2’s ”Awakened”, Prue had never made mistakes on the same level as her younger sisters. I cannot help but wonder if she would have been appalled by some of the actions of the other three – especially their deal with the Avatars.
Do not get me wrong. I like Piper. But unlike Prue, she never really knew how to think matters through. I am not saying that Prue always did. There were times when she jumped to conclusions. But she never at the scale in which Piper, Phoebe and Paige eventually did. After her encounter with the Angel of Death and the Seekers in ”Death Takes a Halliwell”, Prue learned to face her shortcomings. This is something that Piper, Phoebe and Paige never experienced. Which would explain why they never really developed as characters . . . or why Piper never really became a good leader.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
”THE ESSENCE OF THE FIRST SLAYER’S POWER”
One of the more controversial characters that has appeared on ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” happened to be the character known as the First Slayer. First introduced in the Season Four finale, (4.22) ”Restless”, the First Slayer’s presence stirred a great deal of controversy amongst the series’ fans and critics. However, I am not really interested in the controversies that have surrounded the character. I am more interested with her role as a demon slayer and how this role related to Buffy and other Slayers throughout history.
To clarify myself, I would have to start with the origins of the First Slayer. Thousands of years ago, three East African shamans became wary of the increasing demonic activity plaguing their community. To deal with the matter, the trio came up with the idea to create a supernaturally enhanced demon slayer. They kidnapped an adolescent girl named Sineya, staked her to one spot and implanted her with the essence of a demon. The possession entailed supernatural strength, stamina, a predatorial instinct, fast reflexes, rapid healing, intuition and prophetic dreams . . . enough abilities for a Slayer to face vampires and other supernatural bad guys. In other words, the three shamans committed supernatural rape upon an innocent girl in order to create a weapon they could utilize and control. But this article is not about the moral ramifications of the shamans’ act. It is about how the essence of the First Slayer related to the series’ leading character, Buffy Anne Summers.
Buffy and the other Scoobies – Willow Rosenberg, Xander Harris and Watcher Rupert Giles – had spent most of Season Four dealing with the U.S. Army sponsored task force called the Initiative and the mess the latter had created in capturing and experimenting on demons. The organization’s biggest mistake turned out to be a human/demon Frankenstein-style hybrid created by the Initiative’s leading scientist, Dr. Maggie Walsh. After killing Dr. Walsh, this monster – named Adam – created more havoc throughout Sunnydale by killing innocents and recruiting other human/demon hybrids (read: vampires) to his cause for a new order. In the second-to-last episode, (4.21) “Primeval”, Buffy and the Scoobies finally managed to defeat the near invincible Adam. They did so by using a spell to invoke the powers of the First Slayer to be put into Buffy’s body. Each Scooby represented the main attributes of the First Slayer’s powers – the Spirit, the Heart, the Mind and the Hands – in the spell. Willow acted as symbol of the First Slayer’s Spirit, Xander as the Heart, Giles as the Mind and Buffy as the Hands. By invoking the First Slayer’s power through Buffy, the Scoobies created a formidable foe that led to Adam’s defeat and death.
Many Buffyverse fans saw the spell invoked in ”Primeval” as an argument why Buffy should never separate from her friends and Watcher. They saw the spell as an argument for the old saying - ”no man is an island”. But the spell led me to wonder about Buffy’s role as a Slayer and her connection to the other Scoobies. If those African shamans had created a Slayer that possessed enough strength to defeat someone like Adam, did that same strength ever get passed on to the Slayers that followed her? Slayers that included Faith . . . or Buffy? Or did Buffy and the other Slayers that followed only inherited one particular attribute of the First Slayer – namely the Hands, which all Slayers use to kill their prey?
If the First Slayer did pass on all of the abilities of her power to her successors, why did Buffy need the Scoobies to represent the Heart, the Spirit and the Mind of Sineya? Surely, she could have summoned all of those attributes within her to defeat Adam. Or perhaps Buffy’s problems in dealing with Adam had originated with her two Watchers – Rupert Giles and Merrick.
One of the aspects from Season Seven that I found interesting was Buffy’s transformation into a leader of adolescent girls with the ’the Potential’ to become the Slayer. Unfortunately, Buffy’s introduction as a leader nearly ended in disaster, when the Potentials, the Scoobies, Dawn and everyone else rejected her leadership and tossed her out of the Summers house in (7.19) “Empty Places”. Spike and Andrew were in Gilroy on a mission for Giles and missed the big event. Their rejection seemed understandable, considering that Buffy was on the road to becoming an ineffectual leader. And who is to blame? Buffy’s Watchers – Merrick and Giles. I found it ironic that Giles literally dumped the Potentials onto Buffy’s lap and told her that she needed to become a general. The problem was that neither Giles or Merrick ever taught Buffy how to lead. Instead, they taught her how to stalk and kill demons. They taught her how to utilize ’the Hands’ of the First Slayer . . . and nothing more. To Giles, Merrick and the other Watchers, being a Slayer only meant being a killer of demons. I can only wonder if other Slayers between Sineya and Buffy were given the same limited lessons.
But what does this say about the other Scoobies’ roles in the battle against Adam? More specifically, what does this say about their roles in Buffy’s life? I am not advocating the idea that Buffy should have ended her friendship with the other three. But was it really necessary to invoke the First Slayer’s other three traits – the Spirit, the Heart, and the Mind – through the Scoobies? Personally, I believe that Buffy could have found a way to use all four traits on her own . . . if she had bothered to try. If she had inherited the power of Sineya like all of the other Slayers before her, I see no reason why she or any other Slayer throughout history could not learn to embrace all four of the First Slayer’s attributes as their own.
Or perhaps Buffy had already began to embrace the full power of the First Slayer by late Season Seven. She managed to prove that the old saying - ’no man is an island’ - is not always true. After being booted by the others in ”Empty Places” and comforted by a returning Spike in (7.20) “Touched”, Buffy set out on her own to retrieve a magical scythe from another formidable foe, namely a misogynist priest named Caleb, endowed with the strength of the First Evil. And she succeeded. On her own. After retrieving the scythe, Buffy went on to rescue a wounded Faith and a group of Potentials who had wandered into a trap set by Caleb and the First Evil. Again, she achieved this on her own, using her Spirit, Heart, Mind and Hands.
Does this mean that Buffy should seriously consider that she might not always need the Scoobies by her side? Frankly . . . yes. Perhaps no one man or woman is an island, but each and every one of us is always alone, no matter how many people we surround ourselves with. With the Buffy saga continuing in comic books, perhaps Joss Whedon considered a new lesson for his main character and the fans – there are times when we need our friends, family or some kind of help with us; and there are times when we have to face the fact that each of us is alone. And sometimes, we have to set about on a task . . . by ourselves. If Buffy ever truly learn that lesson, she will truly learn to utilize the full power of the First Slayer’s essence on a regular basis.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
"A WEDDING IN FOUR ACTS"
Act III - Part 1
"Great party, last night," Paige declared, as she entered the Halliwell kitchen. "A big hit, as far as Livy and the others are concerned. They really loved the male stripper."
Piper commented, "And I bet you did, too." Paige wrinkled her nose. "Anyway," Piper continued, "I'm also satisfied. With the business P3 made last night. Plus, Mrs. McNeill . . . the Younger . . . had asked me to prepare some hors'derves for the wedding reception." She indicated the spread of food on the kitchen table. "I'm making Broccoli Quiche, Shrimp Canapes and Deviled Ham pinwheel sandwiches. And I need your help."
"Swell," Paige grumbled. "I come down for breakfast and end up being the kitchen help. I supposed you don't care that I'm one of the bridesmaids, today."
Removing a plastic bag filled with cooked shrimp from the refrigerator, Piper replied, "Nope, I don't. Besides, I only have to make the canapés. Phoebe went to the store to get some more mayonnaise and Swiss cheese."
The kitchen door swung open. "And Phoebe is here," the middle Charmed One announced breathlessly. She entered the kitchen and closed the door. Dumping her purchase on the table, she added, "Here's the Swiss cheese, Piper."
Paige sat in one of the chairs. "So, what are we having for breakfast?"
Piper shook her head. "Sorry, I haven't had time to make breakfast, yet."
"I could go to McDonald's," Phoebe volunteered. "Who's in the mood for an Egg McMuffin?"
Paige grimaced. "Thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather have a Sunrise sandwich from Carl's Jr. With bacon?"
"Carl's Jr. sounds fine with me," Piper said. She handed the bag of shrimp to Paige. "Sweetie, do me a favor, while Phoebe gets breakfast. Start peeling the shrimp for me?"
Phoebe added, "And I'll be heading for Carl's Jr. Besides a Sunrise sandwich with bacon, what do you guys want?"
Before Paige or Piper could answer, Leo burst into the kitchen. "Leo honey," Piper began, "Phoebe's getting breakfast from Carl's Jr. What do you want?"
"I'll have orange juice and toast," Leo replied absent-mindedly.
Paige frowned at him. "Toast? From Carl's Jr.? Don't you mean French Toast?"
Leo's blue eyes focused upon the youngest Charmed One and chilled slightly. "Never mind breakfast," he said. "I just want to know Paige - why did you tell Cole that I had recommended that ADA job to Paul?"
"Huh?" Paige stared at her brother-in-law with wide eyes. "Leo, what are you talking about?"
Grim-faced, Leo leaned against the kitchen counter. "Last night, I ended up in a fight with Cole . . ."
"Did he hurt you?" a concerned Phoebe asked.
Leo shook his head. "No, it was all words. But he told me that Paige," he coldly returned his gaze upon the youngest sister, "had told him how Paul found out about the ADA job opening. Through me. And now, Cole is convinced that I had done it to play matchmaker with Olivia and Paul."
"Well excuse me, Leo!" Paige retorted. "But it was Paul who told me at Nathalie Gleason's party, last week! And judging from that little dinner party you and Piper gave nearly a month ago, and your expression every time we saw him with Olivia . . . can you really blame Cole for suspecting that you're playing matchmaker?"
The other two sisters stared at the whitelighter. Piper asked, "Paige, are you suggesting that Leo helped Paul get a job out here, simply to . . . break up Cole and Olivia?"
"There is no Cole and Olivia to begin with!" Leo hotly insisted. "They weren't even dating!"
Paige spoke up, "But you did tell Paul about the job opening. Right? So that you could hook him up with Olivia?"
"I see nothing wrong with that," Piper commented. "Paul has a new job with a higher salary. He and Olivia seemed to get along." She shot her husband, an acidic look. "Of course, someone could have told us what he was up to."
Phoebe added, "And Olivia could do a lot worse than Paul. Say . . . my ex-husband?"
"Well that's great, Pheebs," Paige shot back, "except I don't see how Paul can be good for Livy, when she doesn't even love him. And besides . . . I think there's something a little off about our friendly neighborhood ADA. Like he's in dire need of a good psychotherapist!"
Leo protested, "What are you saying? That Paul's crazy? And as Olivia's whitelighter, I think I did the right thing by . . ."
"Interfering with Olivia's love life?" Paige suggested sarcastically. "Yeah, I'm sure you feel that way. Only . . . you haven't been her whitelighter in years!"
"Paige . . ."
The youngest Charmed One rounded on her whitelighter. "If you're worried about Cole knowing about your little scheme, Leo, don't bother. Because you might have a bigger problem on your hands. Like a pissed-off witch, if Olivia ever finds out."
Leo's face paled.
Slowly, light poured into the darkness of Barbara's mind. When the darkness finally disappeared, the blond witch blinked her eyes several times, before opening them.
The room looked very unfamiliar with its wood-paneled walls and expensive Louis XV furnishings. Filled with panic at the unfamiliar surroundings, Barbara jerked into a sitting position. Where in the hell was she? The last thing she remembered was encountering the male stripper, who had transformed into a . . .
The door opened and in walked a tall, good-looking man who possessed dark hair and a slender, yet wiry physique. The same man who had once been a blond-haired stripper, last night. "Oh God! It's you!" Barbara sprung off the bed and back away, bumping into the night stand. "Stay away from me!"
The man smiled. "Do not worry, Signorina. I will not hurt you." His dark eyes grew threatening. "Unless you give me a reason."
"Who in the hell are you?" Barbara demanded. "And where am I?"
Bowing, the man continued, "My name is Alessandro. And you're at the home of Signorina Claudia Della Scalla."
Barbara grew cold at the mention of her hostess's name. "Della . . .?" she whispered. Then, "Oh my God! Della Scalla! Olivia was right!"
"There is someone who wishes to speak with you." Alessandro opened the door and stood aside, while a second figure entered the bedroom. Nick Marcano.
The Stregheria witch smiled broadly. "Barbara! It's good to see you!"
Barbara marched toward Nick and punched him in the jaw. Hard. He sprawled onto the floor. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Nick?"
Rubbing his jaw, the Streghone protested, "Me? This is not my doing!" He stood up. "I'm . . . Signorina Della Scalla had me sprung from jail. She thought I had killed her sister."
Searing the other witch with a furious glare, Barbara hissed, "And I bet you made sure that you told her what really happened. Didn't you?"
"I had no choice!"
Barbara shot back, "If that's true, why am I here?"
Nick hesitated. "Well . . ."
"Signor Marcano had provided much needed information to the Padronessa," the incubus explained smoothly. "And he is being rewarded for his troubles."
"Rewarded?" Barbara frowned. "How?" She turned to Nick. "What exactly did you tell her?" Recalling how Alessandro had captured her in the first place, a horrifying epiphany struck the blond witch. "Goddess! You told her everything about us, didn't you? About the wedding!"
Nick added, "Signorina Della Scalla needed the information to get close to Bruce. But don't worry. She won't kill him before the wedding. She's going to marry Bruce in your place . . . and then kill him. Eventually. As for us . . . well, how do you feel about becoming Mrs. Nicholas Marcano?" He stared at Barbara with hopeful eyes.
Barbara decided to give Nick an answer that best expressed her feelings. Her fist snaked out and smashed against Nick's jaw. For the second time. And for the second time, he went sprawling upon the floor. "Does that answer your question?" Barbara coldly replied.
The incubus helped Nick to his feet. "Signorina, I suggest that you refrain from such behavior, again. You should consider yourself lucky that the Padronessa has decided to spare your life. For Signor Marcano's sake. Meanwhile, you can shower and dress. There are some clothes in the closet. And a servant will bring you breakfast. Good day, Signorina Bowen." Alessandro left the room, dragging along a semi-conscious Nick.
Once the door closed behind the pair, Barbara rushed forward. She re-opened the door and tried to leave the bedroom. But she was unable to, thanks to a force-field blocking the doorway. In other words, she was trapped. And unless she could escape in time to warn her family and the McNeills, Bruce will end up dead by the time his honeymoon ended.
The pounding on the door awaken Claudia from her deep slumber. She rolled over to her right side, heaved a sigh and tried to resume her sleep. The pounding resumed. Then the doorbell rang. "Barbara! Hello? Wake up!"
Barbara? Claudia blinked several times before her eyes flickered open. She sat up, glanced around the bedroom, and remembered. Oh yes. The bedroom belonged to the Streghone's little Wiccan witch. Claudia's eyes swept over the room. Very tastefully furnished. The succubus could not help but feel impressed by the witch's taste.
Ding-dong! The doorbell rang for the second time. Claudia waited for a servant to respond . . . until she remembered that the Bowen witch did not have servants. How barbaric. Heaving a sigh, she forced herself out of bed and started toward the apartment's living room. A quick glance at a mirror hanging near the door informed Claudia that she was not in disguise. She morphed herself into the image of the blond-haired witch and opened the door.
"Here comes the bride! Here comes the bride!" sang two women, as they entered the apartment. One of them, the Vodoun priestess, swept her eyes over Claudia. The latter's hand immediately flew to the small amulet hanging from her neck. "Damn Barbara! Are you just getting up? It's a quarter past ten!"
Claudia stared at the other two. "After ten? Get ready? Why should . . .?" Her mind immediately grasped the situation. "Oh! Yeah. The wedding. How long do I have?"
"Man, you have lost it this morning!" the redheaded witch declared. "I thought you would have been eating breakfast by now. Where's your wedding dress?" She swept past Claudia and into the bedroom.
Wedding dress? Several seconds passed before the succubus realized that she did not know where to find it. "I . . . uh . . ."
"I've got it!" the McNeill witch cried. She re-entered the living-room, carrying two plastic-covered garments. "I've got your going-away dress, as well. Why don't you take a shower and get dressed, so we can leave? We can get breakfast at my parents' house."
Claudia blinked. "Oh. Okay." She started to turn away.
"What's that?" The Vodoun priestess pointed at the amulet hanging from Claudia's neck. The same amulet that contained a spell to block any power from another telepath.
Being the quick-witted creature that she was, Claudia immediately came up with an answer. "Oh. That." She fingered the amulet. "It's a good luck piece. For the wedding."
The priestess, whose name Claudia recalled was Cecile, continued to stare at the amulet. "That's an interesting symbol for good luck. What language is it? Where did it come from?"
Panic quickly became relief when the other woman interrupted. "Hello? Ladies? We have a wedding to attend. We don't have much time."
Claudia used the warning to excuse herself and return to the bedroom. Once inside, she summoned her right-hand man, Leonardo. The incubus materialized after her third cry. "Yes Padronessa?" he responded with a bow.
Throwing off her robe in a theatrical manner, Claudia said, "One of the women in the other room - the black woman . . ."
"The Vodoun mami, Dubois," Leonard added.
Claudia continued, "I want you to find someone to keep an eye on her. Get Giancarlo. She has developed an interest in my amulet. And I'm not sure that it is blocking her power, completely."
Leonardo said, "I will summoned him, right away."
Nodding Claudia added, "Bueno. Now all I want him to do is observe her. But if she becomes a problem . . . have Giancarlo kill her. If necessary."
The solid redwood door swung open and Cole, along with his companion, found themselves facing a surprised-looking major-domo. "Mr. Turner," Davies greeted, staring at the woman clutching the half-daemon's arm, "welcome back. Come in."
The pair entered the McNeills' house. Veronica Altman glanced around the foyer with admiring eyes. Cole noticed that her lips had puckered for a whistle. Fortunately, not a sound came out. Especially since Gweneth McNeill chose that moment to enter the foyer.
"Cole!" The middle-aged redhead embraced her new visitor. Then she pecked his cheek. "Darling, I'm so glad that you're here. Jack needs help supervising the set-up for the ceremony in the garden. Harry is upstairs, babysitting the groom." Her green eyes fell upon Veronica. "Oh. Who is this?"
Cole responded with a slight cough. "Uh Gwen, this is Veronica Altman. She's a fellow attorney at my firm. Veronica, this is Gweneth . . ."
"Gweneth McNeill." Veronica eagerly shook the chef's hands. "I'm a big fan of yours. In fact, I even have two of your cookbooks."
Flattery lit up Gweneth's eyes. "Really? How lovely! Which two books do you have?"
An excited Veronica continued, "Well, I have the one on British cooking and the Fifty Simple Recipes cookbook. They're great!"
It took all of Cole's efforts not to wince at Veronica's adulation. Or kick her in the shin and tell her to ease up on the celebrity worship. But since the other attorney was doing him a favor, Cole remained silent. A few minutes later, the subject of cookbooks finally ended. "I would really love to chat a little longer, Ms. Altman," Gweneth said, "but I have a wedding to organize. Would you excuse . . .?"
The front door swung open and three women entered the house - Cecile, Barbara, and Olivia. "We're here!" the latter declared loudly. "Mom, Cecile and I finally got Barbara . . ." She stopped short at the sight of Cole and Veronica standing next to each other. "Oh. Cole." A tinge of jealousy crept into her voice - much to Cole's satisfaction. "Who's your friend? She looks familiar."
Suppressing a smile, Cole replied, "You remember Veronica Altman from my firm, don't you? I believe you two had once met at some office party."
"Actually, we've met twice," Veronica said, offering her hand to Olivia, who coolly regarded it. "At the Christmas office party and at the firm's charity benefit, last February. Nice to see you, again, Olivia. It is Olivia, right?"
A cool smile touched Olivia's lips. She finally shook Veronica's hand. "Oh yes. I remember you. From the charity benefit."
Cole turned Veronica's attention to the other women. "By the way, this is Cecile Dubois. She's a friend of Olivia's. And so is Barbara," he said, indicating the blond-haired woman. "Who happens to be the bride."
Veronica shook Cecile's hands and smiled at Barbara. "Congratulations on the wedding. I hope you'll be happy."
The bride-to-be responded with a wan smile. "Thanks." To Cole's surprise, he felt a familiar tingle at the nape of his neck. The last time he had felt such a sensation . . .
"I hope that you'll enjoy the wedding, Ms. Altman," Gweneth said, interrupting Cole's thoughts. "I believe it will be quite different from what you're used to."
Veronica's smoky gray eyes widened. "Oh?"
"Our family and Barbara's family are into what is known as New Age religion. It's a new kind of religion based on some old Celtic Pagan one."
Nodding, Veronica said, "That should be no problem. I mean, this is San Francisco. New Age religion has been around for the past 30 or 40 years in this town. At the last wedding I had attended, the bride and groom were married in a some kind of old Romanian ceremony." She turned to Cole. "Remember Cole? It was at Stefan Schroeder's wedding, nearly two weeks ago."
Cole became aware of eyes staring at him. "That's strange," Olivia said thoughtfully. "You never mentioned anything about attending a wedding to me."
Despite the intensity radiating from Olivia's green eyes, Cole maintained his composure. "You weren't available that day. I believe you and Paul had taken a trip to Napa Valley."
Olivia's eyes flickered. "Oh."
Tension surrounded the six people like a heavy fog. Mercifully, Gweneth broke the silence. "Well, I'm sure we would all love to stand around and talk, but I have a wedding to supervise. Jack is waiting for Cole, and I'm sure that you girls need to get ready."
Her words did the trick. Gweneth exchanged a few more words with Veronica and left. Olivia, along with Cecile and Barbara started upstairs. As they climbed the staircase, Olivia shot a quick glare at Cole and Veronica.
"Looks like your plan is working," Veronica commented, after the three other women disappeared upstairs. "Did you see the look your friend gave us?"
Cole sighed. "Oh yeah. I saw." Only now, he began to wonder if he had gone too far with this jealousy scheme.
END OF ACT III - Part 1
Monday, October 20, 2008
RETROSPECTIVE: Star Trek Voyager (5.12 “Bride of Chaotica!”)
One of the aspects of ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” that I have truly enjoyed over the other ”TREK” shows were the holoprograms featured or the episodes centered in the two Holodecks. One such holo program was ”The Adventures of Captain Proton” stories created by Voyager’s Chief Pilot, Tom Paris. Captain Proton was featured in at least four episodes – three in Season Five and one in Season Seven. But without a doubt, my favorite happened to be the third Proton story titled, ”Bride of Chaotica!”.
In short, ”Bride of Chaotica!” began when Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) and Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) are enjoying the latest chapter of his Captain Proton program in one of the Holodecks. They are forced to leave it running when spatial distortions trap the ship and disrupt their control over the computer. Voyager’s command staff attempted to discover a way to free the ship from the spatial distortions. Unfortunately, extra-dimensional aliens that exist in a photonic state cross over from their own dimension through a distortion located in the holodeck. They are detected and attacked by Proton’s archenemy, Dr. Chaotica (Martin Rayner), who believes them to be from the Fifth Dimension, and whose holographic (photonic) weaponry - though harmless to humans - is deadly to the aliens. Eventually, the crew discover the war being waged between Chaotica and the Fifth Dimension and must defeat him by playing out their roles as the fictional Captain Proton (played by Tom Paris), his sidekick Buster Kincaid (Harry Kim), and Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People. Paris convinced Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) to take on the latter role.
I might as well be frank. I LOVE ”Bride of Chaotica!”. I adore it. It is one of my favorite ”TREK” episodes of all time. What am I saying? It is my favorite ”TREK” episode of all time. Screenwriters Bryan Fuller (creator of ”DEAD LIKE ME” and ”PUSHING DAISIES”) and Michael Taylor created a first-rate episode filled with imagination, action and humor. Having the characters of Tom Paris’ Captain Proton holoprogram get drawn into a galactic war with an actual group of actual aliens that are photonic was a stroke of genius. And Fuller and Taylor, along with director Allan Kroeker, did an excellent job combining an original story with great characterization.
The cast was excellent, as always. Robbie McNeill and Garrett Wang revived their old magic as Tom and Harry – the two crewmembers who got more out of the Captain Proton holoprogram than anyone. Come to think of it, McNeill also managed to generate strong chemistry with Tim Russ (Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok) and Kate Mulgrew. The latter was superb as Queen Arachnia, although I think she may have been a little guilty of too much mugging, while expressing Janeway’s disregard for the Proton holoprogram. However, I loved her scene with Neelix (Ethan Phillips) that showcased Janeway’s caffine addiction. With that scene, she may have truly earned the nickname - Queen of the Delta Quadrant:
JANEWAY: "Coffee, black."
NEELIX: "I'm sorry, Captain. We've lost another two replicators –"
JANEWAY: "Listen to me very carefully because I'm only going to say this once. Coffee – black."
NEELIX: (To replicator)"Coffee, black. While I've got your attention there are –"
JANEWAY: (Holds up hand)"Coffee first."(drinks/inhales)"...Now, what's the problem?"
And then there is Dr. Chaotica, portrayed with great relish by Martin Rayner. The promise he had shown as a rich and over-the-top character in the Season Five premiere, ”Night” was fulfilled in this episode. The late Nicholas Worth ably supported both Rayner and Janeway as Chaotica’s ruthless, obsequious henchman, Lonzak.
As much as I love ”Bride of Chaotica!”, there is one aspect about it that disturbed me – namely the crew’s reaction to the Captain Proton hologram. It is quite apparent that they view it as nothing more than a childish piece of fiction for those of the immature mind. And it is quite apparent that they also view Tom Paris’ participation in it as childish. And they are not the only ones. I have read some reviews of the episodes. While most tend to sneer at it, along with anything labeled ”STAR TREK VOYAGER”, at least two of them did not. Julia Houston seemed to view the holoprogram not only as Tom Paris’ personal fantasy, but also as an example of his imagination. Like me, she seemed annoyed by the inability of others to appreciate Paris’ imagination . . . and his right to his own fantasy. Now Jim Wright did seem to enjoy the holoprogram and appreciate its uniqueness. But it also seemed that he viewed it as a sign of Paris’ immaturity . . . and as something that the Chief Pilot would have to give up in order to develop as an adult.
Quite frankly, I agree with Julia Houston. I was very annoyed by the other Voyager crewmen’s snobbish reaction to Captain Proton. Okay, perhaps they did not care for it very much. But was there really any need for them to openly sneer at what he considered recreation and fantasy? What law was there that Tom’s pursuit of recreation had to culturally high-brow or meaningful? Janeway, of all people, had no business to sneer. This is a woman who had spent two seasons indulging in her Lambada One holoprogram – a ”Jane Eyre”/”Rebecca” Gothic romance. I must also admit that I was a little put-off by Jim Wright’s assumption that Tom needed to give up the Proton program in order to become more mature as an adult. To me, this attitude seemed like a clear lack of appreciation for Tom’s vivid imagination. Perhaps it was more important to him and other ”VOYAGER” fans that Tom become the stand-up Starfleet officer that Owen Paris and Janeway wanted him to be. Happily, Tom never stuck to his declaration of giving up the Proton program. He and Harry were still using it in early Season Six (see ”Alice”). And a late Season Seven episode called ”Homestead” revealed that Tom had created another B-movie style program called “Invaders from the Ninth Dimension."
Personally, I like the idea that Tom Paris would eventually become that successful holonovelist sometime in his future. But in the VOYAGER relaunch novels, he became a permanent Starfleet officer, achieving the rank of Lieutenant-Commander and Voyager’s new first officer. Ugh. What a waste of a vivid imagination that created the likes of the Proton holoprograms. In real life, I would compare Tom to the likes of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, J. Michael Stracynski and the two writers who had created this wonderfully imaginative episode – Fuller and Taylor. A girl can imagine - can’t she?
Sunday, October 19, 2008
"CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE"
BLUE JEWEL SYSTEM
Padme covered Master Olin’s quivering form with a blanket. His body laid stretched on one of the Alberforce’s two bunks.
“. . . Rasche,” the former Jedi muttered feverishly. “He’s here. Anakin must ki . . .” He broke off with a low groan.
Anakin? Padme frowned, as she tucked the blanket around Master Olin. “Anakin must . . . what?” she softly asked.
More groans escaped from Master Olin’s mouth. Then he added, “Kill Rasche. He . . . This . . . is my . . . my fault. If only I . . .” He ceased his mutterings with a sigh and lay still.
Bail loomed before the bunk. “Is he dead?”
“No.” Padme shook her head. “Just unconscious.” She allowed the Alderaanian prince to help her stand. “His wound is serious, Bail. He needs medical attention, immediately.”
Nodding, Bail replied, “I’ll inform Captain Sen.”
An object struck the Alberforce’s hull, causing the ship to rock. Padme would have fallen if Bail had not grabbed her arm. “What was that?”
The two colleagues raced to the cockpit. They found a grim-faced Voranda at the helm. “I should have known!” she muttered angrily. “Imperials!”
The view window revealed Imperial TIE fighters zooming toward the Alberforce. Beyond them loomed an Imperial destroyer. “That’s the Devastator,” Bail commented. “Lord Rasche’s ship.”
A blast from one of the fighters rocked the starship for the second time. Padme clung to the doorway’s frame. “Is it possible that Lord Rasche might be on that ship? Alive?” She and Bail exchanged fearful looks.
“If he is then Set . . . or whatever he’s called might be dead,” Voranda replied brusquely. “Then again, they still might be fight . . .”
A voice crackled from the Alberforce’s subspace radio. ”This is Captain Wermis of the Imperial ship, the Devastator. Stand down your weapons and prepare to be boarded.”
Padme’s fear that she might end up as a prisoner of the Imperials returned.
“Not if I can help it,” the red-haired captain muttered. Grabbing the lightning gun’s trigger, she fired a few shots at the TIE fighters. Two of them blew up instantly.
Bail eased into the co-pilot’s empty seat. “I don’t mean to be pessimistic Captain Sen, but the Devastator can still capture us with a tractor beam.”
Voranda shot a cocky smile at the Alderaanian, reminding Padme of Anakin. “Don’t worry, Your Highness. I know what I’m doing.” She maneuvered the ship to avoid more blasts from the fighters. “We have enough anti-matter pods for one lightspeed jump. Where to?”
“Of course.” Voranda entered coordinates into the ship’s computer. Another blast struck the ship’s hull. Voranda fired back, hitting one fighter. Padme realized that the redhead was clearing a path. “Hang on, everyone!”
Captain Wermis’ voice returned. “This is your last warning! Stand down and prepare to be boarded! Or we will . . .”
Voranda leaned forward and pressed a button on the Alberforce’s cockpit panel. Seconds later, the starship jumped into hyperspace and safety.
WORLPORT, ORD MANTELL
A helpless Darth Rasche swayed precariously on his knees, until the weight of his torso forced him to slump on the ground. He could hear the remaining stormtroopers firing at Skywalker’s starship. When it finally left the hangar, the troopers rushed to his aid.
“My Lord!” one of them exclaimed. Three of them hovered above him like mindless banthas. “Are you well?”
Do I look well? Rasche raged inwardly. He wanted to kill the stormtrooper for asking such a stupid question. But common sense overrode him and he answered between ragged breaths, “Con . . . contact Tom. At . . . at the . . . uh, . . . at the Im . . . per . . .” He sighed. “At the Im . . . perial Li . . .”
The stormtrooper finished for him, “The Imperial Liaison Officer? Yes, my Lord. Right away.” He retrieved his com link and contacted Liaison Tom.
Meanwhile, Rasche felt himself grow weak and dizzy from the loss of blood and his hands. A pair of haunted blue eyes hovered in the back of his mind. Why did Skywalker spare him? Did compassion get the best of his former colleague? Or something . . .?
“The Liaison Officer is here, my Lord!” the stormtrooper announced.
Several more troopers entered the hangar with the dark clad Liaison Tom. The latter assumed a horrified expression, as he stood over Rasche. “My Lord! What happened?”
The Sith Lord opened his mouth to speak, but he could barely say a word. The pain and his dizziness made it near impossible. “I . . . Anakin.” Then darkness overwhelmed Rasche, as he finally became unconscious.
The Emperor had anticipated danger from the Blue Jewel System before the message arrived. Danger for his apprentice. Then a holographic image in the form of a black-clad man appeared above the holographic emitter inside his throne room.
“Your Highness,” the man announced with a deep bow. “My name is Kalen Tom. I’m the Imperial Liaison Officer for Ord Mantell.”
Palpatine regarded the man through narrowed eyes. “Ord Mantell, you say? And where is Lord Rasche?”
Looking slightly nervous, Liaison Tom continued, “I regret to inform you that Lord Rasche has been seriously wounded.”
“By whom?” the Sith Lord demanded.
Tom hesitated. “I believe that a smuggler trying to avoid arrest had wounded him. He decapitated Lord Rasche’s hands.”
Decapitation? With a blaster? Palpatine frowned. No smuggler should have been able to defeat someone with Lord Rasche’s powerful connection to the Force. Unless . . . The Emperor inhaled sharply. Had Rasche encountered another Force user? A former Jedi?
“Your Highness?” Liaison Tom continued. “Did you hear . . .?”
The Sith Lord barked, “I heard you clearly, Master Tom!” With a sigh, he added, “Did Lord Rasche say anything before he fell unconscious? Did he say a name?”
The liaison shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Your Highness. Lord Rasche never spo . . .” He paused.
“What is it?”
A slightly abashed liaison finally said, “My mistake, Your Highness. Lord Rasche did mention one name.”
Palpatine demanded, “And what was that name?”
A brief pause followed before Tom continued, “Nothing much. Just . . . Anakin. Someone named Anakin.”
BLUE JEWEL SYSTEM
The moment the Javian Hawk zoomed out of Ord Mantell’s atmosphere, Han spotted trouble in the form of three Imperial TIE fighters. “Great! We have trouble!”
“Yeah, I see,” Anakin replied in his usual terse voice. “Time to jump to lightspeed.”
“To where? We can’t take the senator back to Maldare!”
Anakin opened his mouth to respond, when a voice over the subspace radio crackled, “This is Lieutenant Profer of the Devastator. Identify yourself.”
The two partners exchanged uneasy looks. Anakin quickly replied, “Uh, . . . Ric Olie of the Cyrian Star. Is there a problem?”
“Do you have authorization to clear Ord Mantell space?”
At that moment, Senator Dahlma burst into the cockpit. “Captain . . .” Anakin immediately shut off the comlink. “. . . Horus! There are three Imperial fighters out there!”
Anakin retorted through clenched teeth, “We are quite aware of that fact, Senator. We can’t take you back to Maldare. Is there another . . .?”
The Imperial pilot’s voice returned, “Captain Olie of the Cyrian Star, did you receive authorization to leave the Worlport spacepo . . .”
The senator quickly added, “The Telos System. Telos IV.”
Han immediately recognized the name. According to Anakin, it used to be the site of the old Jedi Academy, centuries ago. Anakin nodded. “Telos IV it is. Hold on!” He entered the coordinates for the lightspeed jump.
Once more, Lieutenant Profer’s voice crackled on the radio. “Cyrian Star, stand down your weapons and prepare to be tractor. Or we will fire upon you.”
Han saw two of the TIE fighters flank the Javian Hawk. “Great! They can shoot us down before we can even make the jump to lightspeed.”
“Then outfly them,” Anakin ordered. “I’ll help.” He grabbed the laser cannon’s trigger.
Han grabbed the helm’s control and maneuvered the Hawk to the far right, barely missing one of the TIE fighters. As he flew the starship around the fighter, it fired at the Hawk. Anakin fired back, destroying it. A grin stretched across Han’s face. “Telos IV, here we come. Punch it!”
Anakin pressed a button on the console and the Javian Hawk jumped into hyperspace. Everyone inside the cockpit sighed with relief. “Okay Senator,” he added. “Where exactly on Telos IV do you want to go?”
Senator Dahlma coolly replied, “Thani, the planet’s capital. Why didn’t you mention that you were a former Jedi?”
Han shot an uneasy glance at his partner. Whose face resembled a mask. At that moment, both Chewbacca and Miss Colbert appeared behind the senator. “What’s going on?” the younger woman demanded. “Are we in hyperspace?”
“We’re on our way to Telos IV,” Senator Dahlma replied. “And Captain Horus was about to explain why he had failed to inform us that he was a former Jedi.”
Anakin glared at the senator and climbed out of his seat. He brushed past the two women and the Wookie, as he made his way out of the cockpit. They followed, as Han put the ship on auto-pilot. Then he followed the others to the weapons locker.
“Captain Horus!” Senator Dahlma continued. “You had never answered my question.”
After placing his lightsaber and blaster inside the locker, Anakin whirled upon the older Maldarian woman with flashing eyes. “Of course I didn’t tell you!” he retorted. “The Empire has been hunting down the Jedi for the past decade. What did you expect?”
But the senator was not finished. “Then kindly explain why you had failed to kill Lord Rasche. It is believed that he is a Sith Lord. Why didn’t you kill him?”
A sigh left Anakin’s mouth. Han noticed that he could barely keep his emotions in check. “Because the man was unarmed,” Anakin finally answered. “I had chopped off his hands.”
“That is your excuse?” The senator looked outraged. “You had allowed one of the galaxy’s most deadly enemies to survive, because you had bested him in combat without killing him?”
Anakin snapped back, “I had chopped off his hands, Senator! He no longer had a weapon. And I’ve had enough of killing those unable to defend themselves!”
A heavy silence enveloped the cabin. Han wondered if most of the oxygen had seeped out. He held his breath as Senator Dahlma, Chewbacca and especially Miss Colbert regarded Anakin with wide eyes. Han’s partner leaned against the locker.
Miss Colbert’s soft voice pierced the heavy silence. “Did you say . . . you’ve killed . . . those who were unarmed?” She regarded Anakin with disbelief.
Han jumped in to defend his friend. “Look, who cares whether Rasche is still down there or anything about Set’s past. We’ve got out of Ord Mantell alive. I think we should be thrilled.”
“Set?” Miss Colbert warily approached Anakin. “Did you . . .?”
With a sigh, Anakin whirled around to face the others with hard and cold eyes. “Before the end of the Clone War . . . about two or three days before the end, I had betrayed the Jedi Order and became Palpatine’s Sith apprentice. That’s right, Senator. The Emperor is also a Sith Lord. I suspect that very few people know this. As Darth Vader, I had led the assault on the Jedi Temple and helped kill a good number of Jedi. And I was the one who had killed the Separatist leaders on Mustafar.” He hesitated and continued in a heavy voice, “My former Jedi master found me there and we dueled. I tried to kill him. But . . .” His eyes softened. “. . . I guess you can say that I had an ephininy, so to speak. I left. I left Mustafar and the Emperor’s service. I became a smuggler.”
“Anakin and I had met a year later on Corellia,” Han added. “We helped that senator from Andalia named Yeb and his sister escape from the Imperials.”
Senator Dahlma frowned. “Solipo Yeb? He knows about you two?”
Anakin sighed. “His sister had recognized me.”
Silence enveloped the cabin. The two Maldarian women continued to stare at Anakin. Senator Dahlma’s eyes projected shock and amazement at his revelations. Miss Colbert’s eyes, on the other hand, mingled with disbelief and a little fear. As for Chewbacca . . . Han noticed that the Wookie’s eyes shifted back and forth between himself and Anakin.
Then Han’s stomach rumbled. He realized that none of them had eaten breakfast, yet. Breaking the silence, he said, “Uh . . . is anyone up for a bite to eat? I’m starved.”
Anakin’s mouth twisted into a sardonic smile. “I’ll see what I can do. Ladies, if you don’t mind returning to your seats.”
The Maldarian women quietly made their way out of the small cabin. The younger woman shot Anakin with an uneasy glance, as she walked past him. At that moment, Han realized that a chance for a developing romance between the pair may have ended. Figures, he thought. Since when has love ever last forever?
As he started to walk away, Anakin called after him. "Han?"
The younger man faced his partner. "Yeah? What is it?"
Anakin hesitated before he continued. "During that fight in the hangar, did you . . . did you see a woman . . . a petite woman appear . . ."
"Oh that!" Han nodded. "It was uh, the senator's aide. Miss Colbert."
Surprise illuminated Anakin's eyes. "Igraine?"
Han continued, "Yeah." He shook his head in disbelief. "Crazy lady! She ran smack into the firefight in order to get Senator Dahlma's data chip. Nearly got her head blown off. Why?"
Anakin shook his head. "It's . . . nothing. Just my mind playing tricks on me."
Huh? Han stared at the older man. Whom exactly did Anakin see? And why did his friend seem disappointed that the woman in question turned out to be Miss Colbert? Realizing that he would never fathom Anakin's mind, Han gave his shoulders a brief shrug and left the locker room.
END OF CHAPTER EIGHTEEN